Saturday, February 13, 2016

Stories of the Street

“The stories of the street are mine, the Spanish voices laugh.
The Cadillacs go creeping now through the night and the poison gas . . .
The cities they are broke in half and the middle men are gone.
But let me ask you one more time, O children of the dusk,
All these hunters who are shrieking now, oh do they speak for us?”
         Leonard Cohen, “Stories of the Street”

Northwest Indiana Urban League is overseeing a “Water for Flint” campaign.  Roger Haywood, one of the coordinators, sent out a plea and offered to pick up any donations of bottled water or money to purchase the items.  Haywood is founder of a group called It’s Gary’s Time, dedicated to rebuilding the city “one home, one block, one community, one life at a time.”  It’s Gary’s Time has been active in boarding up vacant properties.  Homeless at 13 and once a drug addict and criminal, Haywood has trained and employed former convicts, helping many to turn their lives around.

The origin of the Flint water tragedy lay in Michigan state officials assigning an incompetent emergency manager to run the bankrupt city.  In 2014, allegedly to save money, he arranged switching Flint’s water source from the Detroit water system to the polluted Flint River.  Within six months things were so bad that General Motors stopped using Flint River water because it was corroding engine parts.  Nonetheless, residents keep getting assurances, despite complaints of rashes and hair loss, that what came out of their faucets was safe to drink, never mind how bad it looked.  After Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water system at no cost, Emergency Manager Jerry Ambrose overruled a city council proposal to do just that.  As late as September 2015, Republican Governor Rick Snyder, echoing the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, claimed the water was drinkable and that readings of high lead levels were due to faulty plumbing in individual homes.  Finally last month, Snyder declared a state of emergency and apologized for his administration’s negligence, stating: “No citizen of this great state should endure this kind of catastrophe.”  At least 10 people have died from a rare form of Legionnaires Disease, and the long-term effects of lead poisoning on children might indeed be cataclysmic.  Some see this as an example of environmental racism.  It’s inconceivable that such a fiasco could occur in an affluent community.
 above, Skipper and Hester; below, Nakia Hester with photo of son, by Carmen McCullum
NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano

On his seventeenth birthday Kasreeyal Hester was in a car near his home on the 800 block of Burr Street in Gary with Hammond Morton football teammate Mark Skipper, 15, when someone shot both young men to death.  A police officer discovered the bodies around 8:30 p.m.  Wha a senseless act.  At a vigil Hester’s friend Ronald Williams told Joyce Russell of the NWI Times: “He wasn’t in the streets.  He was trying to get good grades.  He was athletic.  He was trying to get out of Gary.  Things like this make it hard for us to make it out of Gary.”  Could someone in the neighborhood have resented Hester for that, or for having a white friend?

At Hobart Lanes I bowled a 212, my first 200-game of the year, and a 501 series.  The Engineers would have swept We’re Here except that opponent Gene Clifford rolled a 655 series. The former brick mason and Valpo High School bowling coach is related to Chad Clifford, my former student and Crawpuppies’ lead singer, but, oddly enough, on his mother’s side.  Clifford opened game two with seven straight strikes; it ended in a tie when lefty Dick Maloney converted a seven-pin for a spare and then again left just the seven-pin on his extra ball to finish with a 192, well above his average.  In fact, we all were.
photo by Rachel Dabertin
After delivering the finished product of Steel Shavings on a CD, volume 45, to Valerie Quadlin at Home Mountain Printing, I drove to Valparaiso University to locate VU’s Center for the Arts, where Anne Balay will be speaking on Thursday.  While there, I checked out IUN professor Neil Goodman’s sculpture exhibit at Brauer Museum of Art.  Entitled “So Small between the Stars, So Large against the Sky: Studies for a Monument,” – the title a line from Leonard Cohen’s “Stories of the Street” – the exhibit featured small abstract structures, prototypes for major works similar to what Goodman, son of an area dentist, so superbly designed for IUN’s “Shadows and Echoes” sculpture garden.  Goodman meant the title to address, in his words, “the ambiguity of scale, how at once we are large and small, significant and insignificant.”

IU Hoosiers upset the number 4 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, remarkable considering that Yogi Ferrell made just two of 12 field goal attempts and dished out only a handful of assists.  I fell asleep but caught the game next day on the Big Ten Network in a format that caught all meaningful action but, minus timeouts, halftime, and bringing the ball up court, lasted just one hour.  It reminded me of visiting Pat and Ruth Tyler in Birmingham, England, and watching an NFL game cut down to 45 minutes.

Jeff Manes sent me a transcript of his 2009 SALT column for me to read with him at Portage Library.  Because it deals with the publication of my “Retirement Journal” (Steel Shavings, volume 40, 2009) I gave away copies to those purchasing Jeff’s book and wore the same shirt and tie as in the cover photo.  Here’s how the interview ends:
Manes: What’s on the cover of "Out to Pasture but Still Kickin’?"
Lane: A photo of me in front of Hawthorn Hall the day I retired.
Manes: Surely a somber shot of you shuffling through IUN’s parking lot for the last time with slumped shoulders, while dragging an ancient attaché case.
Lane: Actually, I’m standing in front of a microphone along with my son’s band Voodoo Chili while covering Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” And I’m really bringing it. We jammed for [what seemed like] hours. Earlier that day, IUN had a retirement ceremony for me. They gave me a clock, of all things.

I was delighted to see Kathi “Kat” Wellington in the audience.  My former Labor Studies “Swing Shift” student now teaches at Ivy Tech and a carpenters apprentice school.  In “Lake Michigan Tales” Steel Shavings (volume 28, 1998) Kat wrote about getting trapped in an undertow that dragged her a hundred yards off shore until, mercifully, she came upon a sandbar.  She also interviewed Michigan City native Brain Malwin about being caught in a squall in his sailboat and smelting with his brother and a friend.  Malwin told Kat:
  We had been fishing off Lighthouse Pier and had lost track of time.  It was about ten p.m. when we went to call for a ride home.  An overzealous harbor guard spotted us out after curfew.  He pulled his gun on us and made us get in his car while he called the Michigan City police.  Because we all were carrying sheath knives, he claimed we had concealed weapons.  The police realized we were kids out smelting, not dangerous criminals, and just gave us a warning.

In an 2007 interview with Manes Kat Wellington described hiring in at Bethlehem Steel in 1978:
  After my divorce, I applied for a clerical job and passed the typing test.  I said, “Okay, when do you think I’ll start.”  She said, “I don’t know.  We’re not hiring.  We’re just taking applications.”  I had a baby to feed.  I needed a real job that would pay me a man’s wage.  I said, “Listen, what jobs are available?”  She said, “Labor.  The 160-inch plate mill.”  I said, “Sweetheart, I’ll shovel shit, and I’ll never look back.”  The only reason I got my foot in the door was because of affirmative action; they had to hire blacks and women.
A union rep for 17 years, Kat recalled:
  They told me that when we are in the grievance procedure we are all on the same level.  This one superintendent decided he was going to show me who was boss.  I walk into his office; he’s sitting halfway across the room behind this huge desk with his arms crossed.  Without speaking he points to a chair.  Like, sit.  I dragged that chair around to his side of the desk and sat next to him. . . .  He turns bright red.  Never dealt with a woman griever in his life.  He just stared at the grievance without reading it.  I said, “Well, since you don’t seem to be very talkative, are you going to sign this and pay those three guys?”  He signed it, then pushed the grievance toward me and said, “Get away from my desk.”  I smiled [and said], “Really gonna like doin’ business with you” and walked out.  I took him to my level – real quick.
Les Klein; NWI Times photo by Jonathan Miano

Manes and a Portage librarian recited a 2007 interview with legendary Portage High School coach Les Klein, reared on a 110-acre Lake Village farm that his dad purchased during the 1930s for $2,500.  Klein told Jeff:
            We raised a lot of cane.  Literally.  Sugar cane.  We made sorghum molasses from it and sold it in gallon jugs.  We always raised at least three acres of pickles and sold them at the pickle factory in town. Pickles put my brother Ken through college.  We’d pick pickles from mid-July until it was time to go to school.  Actually my older brothers didn’t even attend school until about the third week because that’s when we were making molasses.  Dad would say, “We need you here in the fields.”  Blueberries, asparagus, if you could pick it, we picked it.  If you could sell it, we sold it.

A cousin of Rufus Reyes was in the audience, so Jeff added his interview, only he read Rufus’ part and I his.  Reyes grew up in Lake Village and presently sells flowers at Chicago farmers markets.  Jeff wrote:
  We sat together on Stanley Madison’s school bus the year Rufus entered first grade.  Rufus [whose parents were born in Mexico] didn’t say much.  When he did speak, it was in a language I was not familiar with.  Still, we connected. By the time second grade rolled around, third for me, Rufus could speak English as well as any of us ragamuffins raised south of the Kankakee River – not that great a compliment, I suppose.
When Rufus was in sixth grade he asked Jeff’s dad if he’d play in the school father/son basketball game because his own dad was unfamiliar with the game.  Here is how Manes ended the 2006 column:
  Let it be known, my old man scored that night; he scored a few points indeed. The second he stepped out on the floor of Lake Village gymnasium with my friend, Rufus Reyes, he scored points with me.

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